Music as a lifeline: giving a voice to the voiceless
“It is so important to keep alive these compelling stories: what music meant to people living under the most horrific conditions, how it became a lifeline for some …"
When the Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust, often their precious instruments were saved – given to neighbours or strangers on the street to preserve. But what happened to those instruments? A new play by Moira Blumenthal Productions is bringing to life the powerful true stories of violins played during the Holocaust, in ghettos, forests and concentration camps.
“Every one of the Violins of Hope, a collection of stringed survivors from the Holocaust, has a story to tell,” co-writer of the play Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum told The AJN. “Violins were played to keep people’s spirits alive in the freezing forests. Or played by Jewish partisans as a cover for their manoeuvres. One was played so beautifully it saved its owner from execution in a concentration camp. Now repaired and played together in concerts worldwide, the voices of these instruments restore the dignity of their owners and remind audiences of the best of what human beings are capable of.”
And that is the basis of the production. The violins, lovingly restored by father and son luthiers Moshe and Amnon Weinstein, and known as the Violins of Hope collection, are now played by musicians from all over the world, from humble klezmers in Eastern Europe to virtuosi of the finest orchestras.
The stage play, Stories from the Violins of Hope, with violinist Ben Adler who founded klezmer fusion band Chutney, performing the voice of the violins, shares the stories of these violins, using music as a character.
In a beautiful tribute, Adler will be playing the violin that belonged to Joyce Vanderveen, a ballet dancer and actor who survived the Holocaust, which is being flown to Sydney from the US especially for the production.
Born in Amsterdam, Vanderveen was 13 when the Nazis invaded Holland. One day after Vanderveen’s violin lesson, the Nazis rounded up Jews in the next street and shot them. When she ran, the one possession she took with her was her violin.
“A play with music telling the stories of the violins [is] … another way to spread the message of hope, through the spoken word with music to underscore the raw emotions of the theatrical journey,” music curator Dr Noreen Green wrote to The AJN.
“It is so important to keep alive these compelling stories: what music meant to people living under the most horrific conditions, how it became a lifeline for some … this was not a story of what was lost but of what can be restored. The Weinsteins took these ruined instruments, restored them, and put them into the hands of musicians all over the world, so that a new generation can hear them as their original owners did.”
Co-writer Ronda Spinak spoke to The AJN on a recent visit to Sydney to workshop the play. “As you hear the stories of the violins, you’re also hearing the incredible family stories woven through, and that’s what makes it different from a concert,” she said. “When you play them, you’re allowing those souls to be heard. Justice is served when the violins are played.”
One of Green’s most incredible moments was seeing the violins themselves, even travelling with one to Washington DC to present the violin to the Weinstein family at the Anne Frank Awards in 2021.
“To meet the violins as they arrived in Los Angeles, to hear them played by our musicians, to hear the voices of the strings give voice to their lost owners,” she recalled. “The emotions can’t really be described in words.
“There are so few survivors of the Shoah left, and this is a unique and non-threatening medium to educate present and future audiences about the Holocaust. The combination of education and engagement that this play provides is a winning one for audiences of all ages. Once all the survivors are gone, these restored instruments will continue to tell their stories for generations to come.”
Stories of the Violins of Hope will be showing at the Bondi Pavilion from May 31 to June 18. For tickets, visit events.humanitix.com/stories-from-the-violins-of-hope-by-lisa-goldbaum-and-ronda-spinak